This month, to celebrate my birthday, friends treated me to lunch at a lovely restaurant/winery with charming views of Seneca Lake, in the heart of the Finger Lakes. The restaurant not only carries its own wines, but also a splendid selection from other wineries located here, along with those produced elsewhere in the United States and internationally.

Maybe it’s because of the burgeoning wine industry in the Finger Lakes – it’s the second largest producer of wines in the U.S. – that wine features prominently in our social life. Each night before dinner, my husband, Lyle, and I have a glass, every meal we share with friends at their homes or ours as well as at restaurants, includes wine. We sip, we taste, we compare, and we share. It’s part of the culture.

Right around the time that COVID quarantining started, Lyle decided to clean out a basement room directly beneath our kitchen that has thick stone walls and a stone floor.  We figured it may once have been a cistern, the house is about 130 years old. Remarkably, in both the heat of the summer and chill of winter, that space stays cool at about 56 degrees.

For as long as we’d owned our house, this was one room I had never, ever entered. It was gloomy and dark with cobwebs, discarded doors, rusted paint cans, a hodgepodge of debris and a broken wooden table. It took him hours, but eventually he got rid of all the junk, cleaned the floor and walls and cleared out the cobwebs. What an amazing transformation! The stone walls were charming; the floor was, too. It was wired for electricity, there was a burned-out bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. Then it struck me. While we enjoy wine and had taken wine appreciation classes at nearby New York Kitchen in Canandaigua, our wine storage options for collecting it had been limited. This was the perfect space to create a wine cellar.

Just outside the room we hung a round, wooden sign: “Wine Pairs Nicely with Good Friends.” We bought a light fixture to hang from the ceiling. For comfort, my husband installed some interlocking rubber tiles over the floor. We found an authentic wine barrel that we placed in one corner of the room; a huge Finger Lakes wine country poster sits in another. We purchased racks and started filling them, rows organized by varietal.

A colorful rug anchors the middle of the room, with a small, rectangular table covered with a Provencal – print cloth, a perfect spot for wine glasses and bottles to open for tastings.  Over the winter, we had an electric fireplace installed for those chilly wine-tasting nights.

Our journey began with an appreciation for wine and the abundance of vineyards so close to where we live. It has continued with the creation of our own wine cellar, a fun space for small groups of friends and family to gather, and a silver-lining project during the isolating time of COVID.

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